Wide receiver Stephen Williams runs a pass pattern Thursday.
Ken Whisenhunt's favorite story about organized team activities is the one about wide receiver Steve Breaston flashing over and over in the summer of 2008, a harbinger of what turned out to be Breaston's breakout season.
That's the standard to which wide receiver Stephen Williams is trying to reach.
Williams has his own favorite story, the one where he did enough during OTAs as an undrafted rookie in 2010 to get a chance in training camp that year to shine – which is what Williams did. He was the darling of camp. Thanks to injuries, he played early that season. Then he faded away.
Williams played in just two games in 2011, backsliding from the promise of his first season. He didn't have a catch. He was inactive for 13 games, and watched as 2011 seventh-round pick DeMarco Sampson surpassed him on the depth chart and then Michael Floyd get drafted in the first round this year.
"I've been to the top, I've been to the bottom," Williams said Thursday after the Cardinals' final OTA of the week. "It's crazy how fast (the time) has gone. But a lot of growth has taken place. I have dealt with a lot of things, going from undrafted to getting a lot of recognition then struggling and to work back. For me, it feels like I have dealt with everything you could deal with in the NFL."
The lack of an offseason killed many chances of younger players last season to make an impact, but perhaps no one was derailed as much as Williams. He desperately needed more time to work on his game, and the reality is that comes in the offseason when coaches can devote more time to youth.
Once a team gets into training camp, "you get to a point where you have to start getting guys ready who are going to play for you," Whisenhunt said. Without an offseason to impress – like Breaston did once upon a time – there wasn't a chance to earn more snaps.
Williams has made some plays this week, Whisenhunt said, crucial with a laundry list of receivers he is currently behind on the depth chart: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, Sampson and Floyd. Williams has gone from being the out-of-nowhere star of camp in 2010 to off the radar.
"I just feel like when the lights are on, I will make plays," Williams said. "I don't care if my name is in the articles or not, I feel if I am being consistent with my playmaking skills and scoring touchdowns, all that will come."
MASSIE'S EARLY RETURNS
Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie, as expected, is working with the second unit behind veteran Jeremy Bridges. Whisenhunt hesitates in talking too much about the play of any linemen, offense or defense, since without pads on those players can't do much of anything that realistically translates to what they can do on Sundays.
"But from what I have seen, he looks very athletic and his pass sets have been very good," Whisenhunt said. "The key for him is being able to pick up the defenses, when right before the snap, that defensive end shifts down and the linebacker gets up on the ball, he's got to know, does he follow the end? Does he stay with the linebacker? And with all that happening, he has to keep using (proper) technique.
"I'll tell you what, he looks the part. Big guy, good movement. I am looking forward to seeing him compete for that spot."
Working four quarterbacks into a tight window of about an hour or so during each OTA doesn't provide for a ton of reps for any of them, a crucial point when Ryan Lindley is a rookie and the Cards still want to get as much work as possible for potential starters Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
The QBs are also working with a new coach, John McNulty, for the first time.
"We're not under the illusion it will change in two or three days of work," Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt, as usual, approached the quarterback play with cautious optimism.
"There will be some really good days and there will be some sketchy days," Whisenhunt said. "But we are making progress."